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NAIA still badly managed

When my Cebu Pacific flight from Hanoi touched down at 5:30 a.m. last Monday, I was expecting no delay in getting out of the airport and back home to get some sleep. After all, it was still so early in the morning. Wrong!

The plane taxied to Terminal 3 and then went into a full stop short of the gate. The pilot said something about a few minutes for some procedures. The few minutes turned into a full hour of sitting on the tarmac.

WTH! It is as if Jun Abaya and General Honrado never left. If you don’t circle around NAIA trying to land, you end up waiting just the same inside an idle plane waiting for a gate to open. With very little sleep on that red eye flight, all I could think of was getting home to a warm bath and a few hours of sleep. That one hour delay was definitely irritating.

Airline staff wouldn’t tell us what was going on. Later on I found out the gate assigned to our flight was still occupied. Yet, we can see so many unutilized gates…so why can’t we use any of those gates?

One possibility is that the gates allocated to international flights are fully occupied. The unutilized gates we saw are for domestic flights.

 But why can’t they do what is being done in Terminal 2, which is just move the divisions or barriers in the pre-departure area so gates can be used for domestic or international? After all, they are not about to move a plane that flew an international route like ours and will next fly domestic.

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If there are now more international flights than Terminal 3 can handle at that early morning hour, it is a problem that should have been addressed. Airline flight scheduling should be more precise to minimize inconvenience to passengers. It is also difficult to believe that Terminal 3 is now that fully utilized.

The other possibility is that the unutilized tubes are not operational. I have heard this explanation from the airlines in the past about non functional tubes every time passengers complain when the airlines choose to load and unload passengers from the tarmac rather than use the tube.  

The nagging question I had is… why the hour long delay? Our flight was scheduled, and both the airline and the airport authorities should have been ready to receive us.

I checked out what could be happening with those familiar with airport operations. One possibility is “probably a slotting problem.” That’s their gibberish for scheduling.

Who is responsible for slotting? This is the job of NAIA authorities and I understand they are hardly transparent about how they do it. Could this be a source of corruption? Getting priority in the line or allowing someone else to jump the line can translate into economic benefits.

That’s not all. When I left for Hanoi last Thursday evening, the air conditioning in Terminal 3 was not working well. I was sweating it out while waiting for my flight. I was told they are waiting for spare parts for the air conditioning system.

That’s the same explanation we heard from General Honrado. Waiting for parts could take months. Is it against the law to have important spare parts on standby all the time?

Now I am totally convinced Jun Abaya and General Honrado never left. The name of the new transport secretary may be Art Tugade, but he could well be Jun Abaya because the lack of leadership is similar.

Duterte’s new NAIA GM may be a fellow named Ed Monreal, but he could have been named General Honrado given the bad experience I had last Thursday and last Monday and the same excuses. Worse, Monreal was supposed to be more qualified because of his experience as a local official of Cathay Pacific, which is better than just being an Air Force general in managing a civil aviation facility.

Tolerating Tugade’s and Monreal’s lack of performance will make Duterte look as incompetent as P-Noy. 

Duterte promised change. Tugade promised change. Monreal said he would introduce change. But change requires leadership, not lordship. My experience last Monday is something expected under P-Noy’s imperial watch… so, no change yet after over a year.

This lack of respect for other people’s time, this cavalier attitude of lordship, is the exact same thing that made me lose respect for the Aquino administration. The recent decline in Duterte’s ratings will become a free fall unless he is able to make sure his officials stop acting like imperial overlords and start delivering on the promised change.

Our Airbus 320 burned jet fuel uselessly for one hour as it idled on the tarmac. Then again, we could have wasted more fuel circling, while trying to land, so we should learn to count our blessings. I am getting the impression that neither Tugade nor Monreal cares.

I had high hopes that because Tugade and Monreal came from the private sector, they would really introduce change and give the public long awaited relief. But both have become useless bureaucrats in a little over year.

Since the airlines are the visible public faces, the passengers vent their ire on them, when in fact it is the fault of incompetent airport bureaucrats. The Duterte administration has also done nothing about the congestion problem at NAIA.

I personally experienced the aircon system at Terminal 3 not working well, with Monreal giving no better explanation than General Honrado. That’s why I have been saying it is better to have an experienced mall manager working for a private company run the terminals because they know they cannot afford even an hour’s aircon system malfunction.

Money shouldn’t be a problem because NAIA, through MIAA, sends back to the National Treasury its excess collections of fees. This is wrong because those fees are not taxes. Those fees are supposed to pay for services needed to run the airport smoothly.

Of course, NAIA suffers in comparison because I just spent the weekend in Hanoi where the infrastructures, including the airport not only work well, but look good. Don’t tell me that’s because they have a dictatorial communist government.

We had a dictatorial government too during martial law under Marcos, but we never got the benefits Vietnam now enjoys. The Vietnamese people seem to be prospering, while only Marcos and his cronies prospered during an era when we could have grown by leaps and bounds.

Indeed, if we have a dictatorial government now, services will deteriorate further because people can’t complain. If NAIA management is able to ignore our persistent calls for international quality services when we can publicly complain, you can imagine what horrors they can do under cover of secrecy.

That’s why I believe airports should be managed by the private sector. Megawide in Cebu is starting to prove that the private sector can do better.

Tugade cancelled the NEDA approved privatization of NAIA’s operations and management. But he doesn’t have a better idea of how to improve things. Perhaps he can tell us his plans with firm completion dates. Better yet, Duterte should require him to show progress.

I am sure they have a thousand excuses for my lousy experience at NAIA over the weekend, but nothing is valid nor credible. The fact remains our plane sat on the tarmac because someone goofed in slotting. I am sure that during Monreal’s Cathay Pacific days, what happened to our flight would have been totally unacceptable.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco.

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